Book reviewers Cameron Woodhead and Fiona Capp take a look at recently released fiction and non-fiction titles. Here are their reviews.
Fiction selection of the week
Marian Keyes, Michael Joseph, $32.99
Marian Keyes’ 1998 bestseller, Rachel’s Vacation, followed Rachel Walsh through her difficult recovery from drug and alcohol abuse at a Dublin drug addiction clinic. Twenty years later, Rachel is now an addiction counselor at that clinic, the Cloisters, and the novel’s humor and pain are deepened by her patients’ struggles and her attempts to help them recover as she managed to. make.
Rachel’s story hasn’t been all bright since the 90s. Her marriage to Luke ended bitterly seven years earlier, and when he returns to Ireland for a funeral, new information forces them to face tough truths and give a new perspective on the breakdown of their relationship.
Keyes mixes fierce emotional honesty with expansive comedic vision to balance the heartache, trauma, and suffering his characters often endure. With a well-rounded, larger-than-life supporting cast, Rachel again is a thoroughly satisfying sequel to the original.
Leaving Owl Creek
Sandy Gordon, Finlay Lloyd, $32
An expert on terrorism and Asian geopolitics, Sandy Gordon has had a distinguished career in intelligence and academia. His beginnings, Leaving Owl Creekbegins with a game of chess between a Kashmiri mujahideen and his captive, Nick MacLean, scion of a wealthy Australian farming family.
Nick’s predicament dates back to a childhood suffocated by duty. Having come of age in the 1960s, he became determined to reject the destiny that was drawn for him. Where Nick squanders his benefits, Richard, the Catholic son of farmhands, succeeds, and their paths cross overseas decades later. Meanwhile, Nick’s sister Lilly steps in to fill in what her parents’ generation assumed were men’s shoes. Through his characters, Gordon weaves a finely woven tapestry of social change in Australian life, with episodes in India less fictionalized than those of Gregory Roberts. Shantaram but no less lively.
Renee Branum, Jonathan Cape, $29.99
Falling is a leitmotif at Renée Branum defenestrate, an episodic novel centered on the twins Marta and Nick. They are Americans of Czech descent, and in addition to the famous defenestrations in Prague history, there is a family curse, brought about by an ancestor who pushed a stonemason from a steeple in an act of patriarchal revenge. .
When Nick falls from a fifth-story window, Marta suspects it was a suicide attempt, rather than a birdwatching gone wrong. Nick is gay – a fall from grace their devout mother can’t understand – and he idolizes Buster Keaton, the master of the fall.
Marta’s own sexuality encounters a steep descent into disillusionment, and many kinds of downfalls swirl around an inevitable downfall: the plunge into the prelapse world of childhood. The book blurs beauty and horror as it spins elegantly towards terminal velocity.
A very nice girl
Crimp Imogen, Bloomsbury, $29.99
The simple predictability of A very nice girl – its uniqueness, if you will – undermines this first Imogen Crimp album. Anna is a young working-class Londoner in training to become an opera singer and slums in a jazz club for money. She feels like a fish out of water among her wealthy classmates, and when she meets Max, a not-quite-divorced financier more than ten years her senior, the struggling singer discovers how the wealthy live.
Naive Anna falls in love, and even though Max insists it’s a fling, he begins to demand more of her time and attention. Yes, the relationship ends as you imagine. Yes, the psychology of power in disparate age and wealth relationships covers exactly the ground you would expect. Yes, the dialogue between the twenties seems jejou in a brutal way. I was expecting something surprising.
Crimp has a clean style and a burgeoning talent for dry humour: they deserve a plot worthy of them.
Non-fiction pick of the week
In the margins
Elena Ferrante, Europa Editions, $24.99
Anyone who has found themselves devouring the Neapolitan novels of Elena Ferrante will understand why she speaks of writing as “a convulsive act”. This “convulsiveness” imbues the novels with an appropriately volcanic quality that sweeps the reader away in their white-hot energy like lava flowing down Mount Vesuvius.
In this series of brilliant essays, Ferrante wrestles with the tensions between inherited masculine ideas of what constitutes good literature and the powerful need to “make room for myself” by twisting and undermining those conventions. The freedom of the writer, she argues, resides in considering literature as “an immense cemetery where each tomb waits to be desecrated”. The “I” who writes is not a solitary Robinson Crusoe but the product of all that is lived, read and repressed.
The real writing happens, she says, when all the other selves “outside the margins” take control.
we have that
Ed., Eliza Hull, Black Inc., $32.99
When Brent Phillips’ daughter was born, he and his wife were congratulated by a nurse because their daughter was not deaf like them. Raised by deaf parents, he considered being deaf normal. It didn’t matter to him whether his daughter was deaf or not. “She was perfect anyway.”
Story after story in this powerful collection of parents with disabilities exposes the irresponsible ableist biases about parents with disabilities, primarily that they are irresponsible for wanting to reproduce other human beings like them. Or, if their disability is not hereditary, they are asked, as Neangok Chair was, how they could possibly consider having a child when they are struggling to care for themselves.
Elly-May Barnes’ observation is echoed several times in the book: she says she saw the effect her disability had on her son, but it wasn’t negative. This made him a kind, compassionate and open-minded young man.
Sheilas: Badass women in Australian history
Eliza Reilly, Macmillan, $34.99
Once a condescending, condescending way to refer to a woman or girl, “sheila” has been happily reclaimed by comedian and writer Eliza Reilly to describe the women in our history who refused to play nice. But going their own way comes at a price, as all the women featured in this book have discovered.
Despite her thefts and burglaries, Native bushranger Mary-Ann Bugg was ostracized as Captain Thunderbolt’s “lover”, even after heroically breaking him out of the infamous Cockatoo Island prison. Then there is Rosaleen Norton, artist and witch, whose sexually confronting work was destroyed by order of the Crown.
Deborah Lawrie was told she couldn’t be a professional pilot because her period would make her “act weird”, but she took on Reg Ansett and won. Australian history has never been so fun and patriarchy has never seemed so stupid.
This is not a Benedict Cumberbatch book.
Tabitha Carvan, Fourth Estate, $32.99
“Why is something that should be nice so bad? Tabitha Carvan questions her obsession with actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Why does she feel ashamed, embarrassed, guilty? Because as a mother of two young children, she is supposed to have outgrown teenage fads and craziness. Mothers don’t behave like teenage Beatlemaniacs. But why not?
It’s an interesting question. Carvan’s problem is that she doesn’t identify with what reporters call the actor’s “rabid female fanbase,” even though she finds the term “Cumberbitches” funny. But the more she opens up to those who share her passion, the more she realizes she has two choices: continue to hate the fact that she loves him or “try to love to love him”.
Whether this is a particularly female dilemma (as the book suggests) is debatable. There are plenty of grown men still crazy about their trains.
The Booklist is a weekly newsletter for book lovers from book editor Jason Steger. Get delivered every Friday.